A piece of family history can be found in a library book.
As a young girl, I spent a lot of time at the iconic New York Public Library – with those stone lions out front - working on school projects. I once found a book I needed and opened it. Out fell an old-fashioned photo postcard with my grandfather’s picture on it.
He was in the army and had sent the card, with a message, to his sister. She had likely stuck it in the book and forgotten about it, until I found it decades later.
I wasn’t a genealogist then, and in what I now believe was a misguided act of responsibility, I put the card back in the book. Perhaps the owner would come looking for it?
When I got home, I told my family about it, and everyone said I should have brought it home. Fortunately, we found a copy at another relative’s home much later.
Have you ever had to clear out the home of a deceased relative or had to help move an elderly relative to a retirement or nursing home?
Checking the dusty corners of a large home, or even a small apartment, can produce family treasures that would otherwise be lost forever.
Remember that those who suffer from senility or Alzheimer’s tend to hide things in the most improbable places.
Even those healthy family members – who may have “pack-rat” mentalities – do the same. People who grew up during the American Depression or were refugees or Holocaust survivors may have had the habit of hiding valuables “just in case.”
Allow sufficient time to do a proper search or you may simply give up and throw out the most valuable of family history items.
Here’ are some helpful hints:
- Look everywhere, behind and under things, on the top shelves of closets and in corners.
- Look for greet cards, photos, family documents hidden in old books or even between old tablecloths in drawers.
- Anyone who has ever changed a light switch on the wall knows there is a handy-dandy little space back there that can hold jewelry.
- All compartments of old handbags, briefcases and suitcases should be searched.
- Clothing, in closets or drawers, could contain important items hidden in pockets or linings.
- Stories abound of people hiding valuable jewelry in the linings of window curtains or long-stored coats.
- Those famous shoeboxes on bedroom closet shelves are always a place to look for photos, currency, documents.
- Check seat cushions and pillows on furniture – those with zippers have easily accessible hiding places.
- Do look under large rugs. While the edges might have been moved for periodic cleaning, it is possible that the larger rugs were not completely moved and something is under there.
- Is there a large pendulum clock on the wall, or a Grandfather-type floor clock? Open it and look inside, where there is lots of space for little items.
- Check between mattresses and box springs, inside pillows.
- Look at the backs of paintings, photos and mirrors hanging on walls.
- Old trunks and suitcases may have markings of previous travels or hold other family treasures.
- Always look through old books before discarding them. Hold them upside down and fan the pages. Check front and back covers for handwritten notes. Everything and anything could have been used as a bookmark.
- Religious books, such as Bibles and prayer books, could contain notes on important family events.
- Kitchen canisters of flour or sugar might hold interesting items.
- Check covered sugar bowls and teapots.
- Check the freezer for valuable items hidden in containers or in plastic baggies inside frozen food boxes. I once put jewelry in a a frozen vegetable box in the back of my freezer because I could get to the bank’s safety deposit box that day. Yes, it was silly – thieves don’t go through your frozen green peas, or do they? – But I couldn’t just leave it around. I remembered to remove mine the next day. Your relative may have left it there years ago.
- Remove drawers from dressers and turn them over to see if documents or envelopes might be attached, or perhaps other items have fallen into the bottom of a piece of furniture. Check the backs of furniture.
- In the bedroom, check jewelry box linings for things that might have slipped inside.
- Check vases that are part of the décor. I once knew someone who threw spare change and other items into a large vase on the table in the entry of her home.
- In these hi-tech days, and the increasing percentage of older generations with computer access, consider checking those CD cases.
- Don't forget to check basements, attics, garages and even garden sheds!
If and when you do find something of interest, document where you found it, how you found it and store it properly so it doesn’t get lost again.
If the found items are documents or photos, make working copies or photographic negatives, and store the originals in a safe place in proper acid-free, archival folders.
And when you do make finds like this, remember to add the photographs themselves, or photos of the objects, to your family website at MyHeritage, so they won't be lost again!
Have you ever found family treasures in a relative’s home? Share your discoveries in our comments below.